YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph has topline voting intention figures (with changes from the last YouGov poll a week ago) of CON 43% (+2), LAB 32% (nc), LDEM 14% (nc). The last poll was a snap one done straight after the furore over the missing benefit data discs was announced, so that in itself showed a three point drop in Labour’s support. This poll suggests the earlier fall in Labour support has been sustained and now the Conservatives are starting to benefit from Labour’s woes.
The poll was conducted between Monday and Wednesday, but it’s important to note that in YouGov’s online polls at least half the responses tend to come in on the first day. While the story of David Abrahams’ donations to the Labour party was broken by the Mail on Sunday, the story has progressed through the week and most of the respondents to this poll would have filled it in before this had become the major crisis for the Labour party that it undoubtedly had become by mid-week. That means this probably isn’t reflecting the full damage that the funding row will end up doing…things are likely to get even worse for Labour.
Tony King’s analysis in the Telegraph reads to me to be somwhat over the top – “among the most devasting for any Government in the history of opinion polling”. I constantly caution people not to compare figures these days with figures from a decade or two ago prior to the major changes in polling methodology that came after the 1992 debacle, and you shouldn’t. But even if you ignore pre-reform polls, ICM recorded deficits of 25 points for the last Tory government. We really aren’t in that sort of league yet.
The 11 point Conservative lead is the largest that YouGov have ever recorded for the Conservatives. The underlying figures also show a shift against Labour, but not an unprecedented one. On the “forced choice” question, asking people to chose between a Brown-led Labour government and a Cameron-led Conservative one the Tories now have a seven point lead, but Cameron managed a nine-point lead in the same question against Tony Blair back in June 2006. The Conservatives have a one point lead on the economy, an improvement from the last couple of months when Labour had regained their lead…but on the same question the Tories had a 3 point lead in March 2007. The figures show that 60% of people think Labour are sleazy and disreputable, compared to only 31% who think the same about the Tories…but at the time of Lord Levy’s arrest in 2006 69% of people thought Labour were sleazy and disreputable. Gordon Brown’s net approval ratings are down to minus 36, about the same level as YouGov used to record for Tony Blair.
In putting the figures in context I am only trying to counteract some of the hyperbole about it being polling doomsday. Governments have seen worse, some of the underlying figures really aren’t that astounding, I’m not trying to say these figures aren’t awful for Labour, because they are. Essentially they are back where they were in the dying days of Tony Blair’s leadership. Labour were in a very weak position during Tony Blair’s long goodbye, but then at least they had the hope that Gordon Brown’s accession as Prime Minister would renew the government, be the change from Blair that people wanted. They can no longer look forward to the dour, Scottish hope charging over the horizon to save the day, now they have to fight with what they’ve got.
The rest of the figures are worse. 53% think Alistair Darling is doing a bad job as Chancellor with only 11% beliving he is doing a good job a net rating of minus 42. We obviously don’t have YouGov figures for the last Tory government to compare to, but to put it in some context the worst figures ever recorded by MORI were for Ken Clarke in 1994, when 17% thought he was doing a good job and 70% a bad job – a net rating of -53.
On competence 52% of people think the government is neither competent nor efficient, only 36% take the contrary view that they’ve just had bad luck and are basically competent. On specific subjects 89% think they have handled the missing data badly, 56% think they’ve handled the NHS badly, 64% the armed services, 68% criminal justice (with only 8% thinking they handled it well or excellently!), 54% Northern Rock, 78% asylum.
These are still figures from a poll conducted during a truly appalling period for the government. On another day when the newspapers aren’t full of negative stories about the government, when (as will happen in the fullness of time) the media are kicking the Conservatives or Lib Dems or whoever, Labour will do better. That said, given that the fieldwork for this poll was mostly conducted at the beginning of a week that got worse for Labour as it went on, things are quite likely to get worse first.
UPDATE: The sleaze question in this poll were actually done separately between Tuesday and Thursday and the voting intention figures are the combination of the two polls. There was no difference between the two, they both showed 43% to 32%. This means some of the fieldwork would have been carried out while Labour’s funding crisis was indeed in full flow. The likelihood is still that most of it was still done early in the week, so later polls may yet show things getting worse.